A few weeks ago I read a book entitled Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I found the book both provocative and affirming: provocative because the author claims that there is a bias in favor of extroversion in our world and affirming in that I can now more readily embrace my introverted self that I attempted to deny for many years. I too bought into the pro-extroversion bias in my own life and was in denial that I am in fact an introvert. Cain’s thesis is that not only is introversion not a hindrance but that it has unique strengths for those of us who are introverts.
In my adult life I believe I held on to my denial because I thought my leadership role in various schools required me to be an extrovert. There is certainly no doubt that there are considerable public dimensions to the role of head of school. For many years I would declaim on how difficult it is for an introvert to be a head of school only to discover and finally admit that I am an introvert myself. But I thoroughly enjoy my role as head of school and my opportunity to interact frequently with so many people of all ages. So what happened to my thesis of the difficulty of such a position for an introvert?
Susan Cain makes clear that introversion is not the equivalent of shyness, nor are we introverts aloof loners. It is just that we engage with people in a different way than extroverts and probably at a slower pace than most of them. I do notice that certain public events require investment of more psychic energy for me than is probably the case for most extroverts. On the other hand I find it easier to be alone than many other people, which makes development of a habit of reflection more inviting and comfortable than it would be were I more extroverted. Introversion is thus different but not better or worse than extroversion. By being an advocate for introversion, Cain is attempting to level the playing field in the face of our cultural bias toward extroversion.
Cain has some particularly useful and encouraging advice for those parents who are blessed with an introverted child. Let me close this reflection with some of her advice:
Finally, try not to worry if all signs suggest that your introverted child is not the most popular kid at school. It’s critically important for his emotional and social development that he have one or two solid friendships, child development experts tell us, but being popular isn’t necessary. Many introverted kids grow up to have excellent social skills, although they tend to join groups in their own way- waiting a while before they plunge in, or participating only for short periods. That’s OK. Your child needs to acquire social skills and make friends, not turn into the most gregarious student in school. This doesn’t mean that popularity isn’t a lot of fun. You’ll probably wish it for him, just as you might wish that he have good looks, or quick wit, or athletic talent. But make sure you’re not imposing your own longings, and remember that there are many paths to a satisfying life (emphasis added).
That is wise counsel indeed. I encourage my fellow introverts to spend a few “quiet” evenings with this enlightening book. I encourage my extroverted friends to change the pace of “a world that can’t stop talking” and read it too.
Until next time…